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Belgrade Media Report 11 March 2020

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Wednesday 11 March 2020
LOCAL PRESS

• Opening of Embassy in Yerevan an expression of friendship (RTV/Tanjug)
• Dacic: We continue with anti-recognition campaign until deal or compromise (TV Happy/FoNet)
• Dacic urges unconditional abolishment of taxes (Tanjug)
• SNS and opposition cancel all campaign rallies until 1 April over coronavirus (Tanjug/RTS/B92)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• RS government decides to ban public gatherings and close down schools until March 30 (N1)
• Stoltenberg meets Turkovic, Podzic; Podzic: We discussed implementation of B&H Program of Reforms (O kanal)
• Cormack: Different leaders have stood in the way of progress of B&H (Dnevni list)
• Radoncic: If migrant crisis escalates, Dodik should change his stances on engagement of B&H AF in protection of borders (FTV)
• Foreign Ministers of Berlin Process countries meet in Skopje (FTV)
Montenegro
• Djukanovic: WB is closer to European values now than ever (CDM)
• Darmanovic in Skopje: Europe remains committed to the WB (CDM)
Republic of North Macedonia
• SDSM cancels all public party events to avoid the spread of the coronavirus (Republika)
Albania
• COVID-19 Outbreak, US Embassy urges politics to be united (ADN)
• Coronavirus Outbreak: Nurseries, educational institutions, nightclubs gyms and private sector in Albania to close down (ADN)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• U.S. Senator Calls On Kosovo To End Tariffs Or Face U.S. Troop Withdrawal (RFE/RL)
• Montenegro Suspends Army Officer for Joining Church Protests (BIRN)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Opening of Embassy in Yerevan an expression of friendship (RTV/Tanjug)

 

At the meeting with the Armenian parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic emphasized that the opening of our Embassy in Yerevan represents an expression of sincere friendship and ambition to intensify all forms of cooperation between the two countries, to which the recent visit of President Armen Sarkissian to Belgrade has given a strong impetus. Vucic reiterated his appreciation for Armenia’s principled support to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Serbia and the support in international organizations.

He expressed the expectation that strengthening of political dialogue would also lead to stronger economic cooperation, which is inadequate if compared to the current opportunities. Mirzoyan underlined the importance of parliamentary diplomacy and dialogue within parliamentary cooperation for better information and coordination regarding the issues of concern to both countries.

 

Dacic: We continue with anti-recognition campaign until deal or compromise (TV Happy/FoNet)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic told TV Happy that Belgrade would go on with its campaign for the withdrawal of decisions on recognition of Kosovo’s independence until an agreement or compromise with Pristina was reached, FoNet reported. He said that Belgrade could accept a moratorium or some halt in the campaign if Pristina did not apply for the international organizations’ membership. Dacic said that President Aleksandar Vucic would go to Berlin on Sunday to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel who would meet with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti two days later. Dacic said that Kosovo did not have the right to sue anyone since it was not a state and the address to the International Human Rights Court was impossible. According to him, despite a serious discussion expected on whether Pristina will revoke the 100 percent import taxes, the Kosovo Foreign Minister has not even mentioned that at a meeting in Skopje. Dacic also added that meeting of the Western Balkans’ prime and foreign ministers was scheduled for 17 March, but no one knew if it would take place due to coronavirus.

 

Dacic urges unconditional abolishment of taxes (Tanjug)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic appealed on Tuesday in Skopje to urgently and unconditionally abolish unilaterally imposed taxes by Pristina, which are endangering the significant number of citizens. At a meeting of foreign ministers participating within the Berlin Process themed EU Perspective for WB6, Dacic stressed that this regional initiative is by no means a substitute for the European integration process. The firm commitment of everyone in the region to EU integration is out of the question. We can speak more about skepticism among EU Member States. We hope that the new EU methodology for improving accession negotiations will very quickly contribute to removing obstacles to the progress of everyone in the region in the EU integration process, Dacic stressed. He said that Serbia is not satisfied with the current dynamics in the opening of the chapters, although many steps were taken on our part, with which we deserved to make the number of open chapters much larger. According to him, strict adherence to the concluded agreements and agreed frameworks of regional cooperation by all participants in the region, without exceptions, is a clear prerequisite for successful achievement and improvement of regional cooperation. He therefore once again strongly urged the urgent and unconditional abolition of unilaterally imposed taxes by Pristina.

 

SNS and opposition cancel all campaign rallies until 1 April over coronavirus (Tanjug/RTS/B92)

 

The Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) has canceled all election campaign rallies until 1 April over coronavirus. SNS leader Aleksandar Vucic decided that the Progressives will not hold election rallies until the end of the month for preventive reasons, in order to avoid the possible spread of the virus. As announced, Vucic said that the health of the citizens is the most important and that decisions on further steps will be made later. After a meeting of top state leaders with representatives of all healthcare and other institutions participating in the fight against coronavirus, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced new measures to the public. When asked if the elections would be postponed Vucic said that he would speak with all representatives of participating parties in the coming days. “If the situation gets much more difficult, we know what the rules are under the Constitution. I cannot know it for now. If there is a postponement, it could possibly be up to two weeks, there is no reason for more,” said Vucic. The Alliance for Serbia (SzS) and the PSG movement, which are boycotting the elections, have decided to cancel all rallies planned in their boycott campaign because of the danger of the spread of coronavirus, while the Dveri Movement is asking for the entire election process to be postponed. SzS has proposed measures to the Serbian government that it believes will protect residents from potential contagion with COVID-19, including a ban on public gatherings, outdoors and indoors. They also want complete and obligatory home isolation of people coming from infected areas, temporary closing of all preschools, schools and universities for a minimum of three weeks, as well as ensuring a controlled supply of masks, primarily to health workers employed at border crossings, and all other vulnerable categories of the population. SzS also stated that all businesses should be advised to allow employees to work from home in the coming period. They call on the government to come up with an economic plan to help companies and employees who will suffer the consequences because of coronavirus, which, in their view, should be based on reducing the burden on earnings in the future, channeling funds planned for infrastructure projects to help people who will lose their jobs, procurement of necessary medical and protective equipment, introduction of rigorous price control of products that could become short in supply, and higher salaries for doctors and other medical staff.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

RS government decides to ban public gatherings and close down schools until March 30 (N1)

 

The Republika Srpska (RS) government convened on Tuesday to discuss special measures in order to prevent an epidemic of coronavirus in the RS. One of these decisions was to close down all primary and secondary schools and universities in the RS until 30 March. All public events have been banned as well during this period of time. The RS government plans to suggest to the Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Council of Ministers (CoM) and the B&H Border Police to increase controls at the border crossings and to ban the entrance of citizens traveling from countries that are considered high risk countries. The RS government requested all hospitals to create a plan of work in emergency situations. It was requested from citizens to follow the measures and to be disciplined in implementing them. It was stated that people who do not implement the preventive measures will face the possibility of criminal charges and fines. Hospitals, homes for the elderly and similar institutions have been ordered to ban all visits.

The Chairman of the B&H CoM Zoran Tegeltija discussed on Tuesday with the prime ministers of the RS and the Federation of B&H, Radovan Viskovic and Fadil Novalic, the current situation regarding the coronavirus. B&H Minister of Civil Affairs Ankica Gudeljevic and B&H Minister of Security Fahrudin Radoncic also attended the meeting. They discussed additional measures aimed at preventing the spread and control of infectious disease COVID-19 and recommended a temporary ban on entry into B&H for foreign nationals coming from areas with intense coronavirus transmission. This applies to persons who have resided in Italy, certain provinces of the People’s Republic of China, South Korea and Iran. It was emphasized at the meeting that the epidemiological situation in the country is not dramatic and that the competent institutions are taking all necessary preventive measures in accordance with the recommendations of epidemiologists and the World Health Organization (WHO) and appealed to all citizens to follow the instructions of the ministries of health and health institutions, as well as to avoid trips to countries with enhanced transmission of coronavirus.

 

Stoltenberg meets Turkovic, Podzic; Podzic: We discussed implementation of B&H Program of Reforms (O kanal)

 

The NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg hosted a meeting with B&H Minister of Foreign Affairs Bisera Turkovic and B&H Minister of Defense Sifet Podzic, in Brussels on Tuesday evening. Topics of the meeting include the reforms that B&H needs to implement on its path to NATO. The delegation of B&H met with NATO officials earlier on Tuesday. They discussed the cooperation and implementation of reforms in B&H. Stoltenberg stated that NATO will resume to support B&H in its efforts to implement reforms from Program of Reforms of B&H submitted with NATO in December 2019. Podzic told N1 that they discussed the implementation of the B&H Program of Reforms. He said that NATO recognized the efforts of B&H and the significance of the Program of Reforms. He stressed that NATO officials offered help and support in the implementation of the reforms.

 

Cormack: Different leaders have stood in the way of progress of B&H (Dnevni list)

 

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and former US Ambassador to B&H Maureen Cormack said that there are several obstructionists in B&H and that sanctions still exist as an option. According to Cormack, the idea is that B&H politicians work together on the progress towards the EU and prosperity of the state, adding that, when one watches the news, it is clear there are several people who block things in different periods of time. She went on to say that the US introduced sanctions against (SNSD leader) Milorad Dodik and that the US has at its disposal sanctions as means to try and help B&H make progress. In this context Cormack said the idea was that the politicians work together on progress and that sanctions are thing from the past, adding that “unfortunately, we have not reached that stage yet”. Talking about the judiciary, Cormack says she has less time to concentrate on B&H, but she has heard from the Ambassador (presumably US Ambassador to B&H Eric Nelson) that there are problems in the B&H judiciary. “If the country wants to move towards Europe, then you must tackle the challenge. Judiciary is exposed to political influence, outside influence, however it must become independent sector,” stated Cormack.

 

Radoncic: If migrant crisis escalates, Dodik should change his stances on engagement of B&H AF in protection of borders (FTV)

 

The Executive Committee of SNSD recently concluded that they oppose engagement of B&H Armed Forces (AF) at borders with Serbia and Montenegro. Member of B&H Presidency and leader of SNSD Milorad Dodik also prevented B&H Presidency to adopt the decision to engage B&H AF for the abovementioned purpose. Reporter commented that at this moment B&H is not prepared to successfully deal with the possible new migrant wave. Namely, blockade of authorities at B&H level prevented allocation of funds for employment of new B&H Border Police officers. Also, Dodik still opposes engagement of B&H AF in protection of B&H borders. B&H Minister of Security Fahrudin Radoncic said that B&H cannot deal with the migrant crisis issue on its own, primarily because of its underdeveloped police agencies. “It is a legitimate right of the Ministry and me as the Minister of Security to request B&H Presidency to adopt the decision on full engagement of B&H AF in the case of escalation of the situation”, stressed Radoncic. Radoncic added that he believes that in the case of escalation of the migrant crisis, Dodik will change his current stance. Member of B&H Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic said that all state resources should be used to protect state borders and to distribute burden of the migrant crisis equally on the entire territory of B&H. He expressed hope that those who oppose measures that would enable B&H to deal successfully with the migrant crisis will understand such behavior is detrimental for them. Military analyst Djuro Kozar said that according to existing legislation, B&H AF cannot be deployed at borders at time of peace. He added that B&H Presidency still can pass a decision to engage B&H AF at borders if there is extraordinary situation in question. Kozar deems that engagement of B&H AF would significantly contribute to prevention of illegal entrances to B&H. Also, Radoncic stated that the recent meeting with Dodik was not about FRONTEX and that it was not about any state secret. Radoncic explained that this meeting was public, adding that one or few topics discussed at this meeting cannot be discussed in public due to their specificity.

 

Foreign Ministers of Berlin Process countries meet in Skopje (FTV)

 

Meeting of Foreign Ministers of countries participating in Berlin Process was held on Tuesday in Skopje, North Macedonia. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Macedonia stated that Foreign Ministers of Germany and Italy cancelled their participation in this event due to spreading of coronavirus. Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of B&H Josip Brkic said that the rule of law is the biggest issue for all ethnic communities in B&H. Brkic corrected a moderator of one of panels who referred to B&H as “Bosnia”. Talking about the reform of judiciary in B&H, Brkic said that B&H copied North Macedonian example and engaged same expert – Reinhard Priebe – who made an analysis of the rule of law and judicial system in B&H. Kosovo Foreign Minister Glauk Konjufca stated that the new government of this country gives priority to creation of new jobs and reforms of judicial sector over dialogue with Serbia. Foreign Minister of North Macedonia Nikola Dimitrov commended the new EU enlargement methodology. He added that his country and Albania deserve to get precise date of beginning of the EU accession talks.

 

Djukanovic: WB is closer to European values now than ever (CDM)

 

President of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic met with Estonia’s President Kersti Kaljulaid, and said that our country is grateful for the understanding Estonia has been showing when it comes, not only to European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations of Montenegro, but the whole Western Balkans (WB) as well. As Djukanovic pointed out, thanks to that support, the WB is now closer to the European system of values than ever in its history. He recalled that Estonia was the first country to establish diplomatic relations with Montenegro after the restoration of its independence, but also that Estonia was the first country to ratify the SAA with the EU.

The President also emphasized friendly relations between the two countries, assessing their inter-state cooperation as exemplary. “Our cooperation so far has been focused on political issues – foreign policy, defense and security. Estonia has helped us a lot by creating opportunities for training our officers in the Baltic Defense College, thus helping us to strengthen our capacities for NATO membership and undertake responsible tasks that we, as a new member of the Alliance, have taken upon ourselves,” Djukanovic said. There are opportunities for improving cooperation in the area of tourism, according to the President. “We find the Estonian experience in the development of agriculture and the application of IT technology in this field as equally inspiring.”

 

Darmanovic in Skopje: Europe remains committed to the WB (CDM)

 

Europe remains committed to the Western Balkans (WB) and its European perspective, said Montenegro’s Foreign Affairs Minister Srdjan Darmanovic at the ministers of foreign affairs meeting within the Berlin Process, held in Skopje, Macedonia. The meeting was attended by ministers of foreign affairs of the six WB countries, representatives of the EU member states who take part in the Initiative, as well as the representatives of the European Commission, the European External Action Service, EEAC, and the Regional Center for Cooperation, RCC.

“Montenegro holds firmly its European path which has no alternative and is a guarantee of stability in the region and a successful framework for the implementation of reforms,” Darmanovic said. The continuation of EU integration is of crucial importance for the security of WB and beyond its borders, according to him. “Montenegro remains committed to regional cooperation, as one of the pillars of foreign policy,” he said and reiterated Montenegro’s support for the neighboring countries on their European path.

 

SDSM cancels all public party events to avoid the spread of the coronavirus (Republika)

 

The ruling SDSM party announced that it is suspending all its public campaign activities. This includes the rallies and smaller scale meetings of SDSM party officials with their supporters, and the reason is the coronavirus. Schools are also closed as of tomorrow as the government tries to handle the spread of the virus, after a clinic director and SDSM party official brought the virus from a ski trip to Italy and wreaked havoc in the main medical center in Skopje. The move for SDSM comes after the party held a mass congress in Skopje, where it presented its candidates for the 12 April elections. All important and less important party officials were gathered in the confined space of the Alexander Palace hotel, some of them reportedly coming after meeting the infected doctor. After the congress, party delegates signed a statement that they haven’t been travelling to the regions that are most affected by the virus, SDSM Secretary General Ljupco Nikolovski said.

 

COVID-19 Outbreak, US Embassy urges politics to be united (ADN)

 

The US Embassy in Tirana called this Tuesday on all persons in Albania to be united against coronavirus. In this regard, Embassy has accentuated that it is time for calm, sensible action by the public and swift, responsible action by all leaders, also that it will support Albanian government efforts to lead a transparent response that keeps all people in Albania as safe, healthy, and informed as possible. “COVID-19 requires everyone in Albania – no matter who you are – to be united in spirit and in action. As President Ilir Meta, Prime Minister Edi Rama, and Democratic Party Chairman Lulzim Basha have all agreed, this is a time for calm, sensible action by the public and swift, responsible action by all leaders. In this respect, the Embassy will also be following WHO recommended measures for basic protective measures against COVID-19, including practicing social distancing and increasing personal hygiene measures, such as frequent handwashing. We will continue to support the efforts of the government of Albania to lead a coordinated and transparent response that keeps all people in Albania as safe, healthy, and informed as possible,” stressed the US Embassy in Albania.

 

Coronavirus Outbreak: Nurseries, educational institutions, nightclubs gyms and private sector in Albania to close down (ADN)

 

Nightclubs and gyms must be closed as a measure against coronavirus outbreak in Albania. The order was issued by the Prime Minister, Edi Rama, who informed that no one will be allowed to open these kinds of businesses until a second order. During another extraordinary meeting on coronavirus situation, PM Rama informed that all the above facilities, also those that gather many people will be closed, so as to put health above all other things. “This is war, as in neighboring Italy there is no open shop anymore. We are in conditions, where many are playing with themselves and the others. We will close pubs, discos, gyms and environments that gather many people. We will close them all to put health first,” emphasized Rama. Also, the Albanian government has passed a Decision of the Council of Minister (DCM), demanding from the private employers to give time off from work to their employees, so as to stop the spreading of coronavirus. According to DCM, this initiative has been undertaken due to the closure of nurseries and educational institutions in the country from 10-23 March 2020. “Because of the closure of nurseries and educational institutions, in function of the taking of measures for the prevention of the spread of infection from COVID-19, we call on all private employers to give time off from work to their employees, so as to stop the spreading of coronavirus”.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

U.S. Senator Calls On Kosovo To End Tariffs Or Face U.S. Troop Withdrawal (RFE/RL, 10 March 2020)

 

WASHINGTON — A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee has called on Kosovo to annul tariffs on Serbian goods and services or face a withdrawal of U.S. troops. Senator David Perdue (Republican-Georgia) said on March 10 that U.S. forces have helped maintain peace between Kosovo and Serbia and that Pristina now “must do its part” to maintain stability by removing the tariffs, he said, reiterating the Trump administration’s policy. “If Kosovo is not fully committed to peace, then the U.S. should reconsider its presence there,” Perdue, who is also a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a tweet. Donald Trump Jr., the U.S. president’s son, retweeted Perdue’s statement, adding there are 650 troops in Kosovo and that it’s “time to bring them home.” The United States is one of the biggest backers of Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, which Pristina declared in 2008. Serbia continues to consider its former province part of its territory. Pristina imposed 100 percent tariffs on Serbian goods and services in November 2018 in response to Belgrade’s continued lobbying for countries to reverse their recognition of Kosovo. Sierra Leone recently became the 18th country to withdraw its recognition of Kosovo as an independent nation. The Kosovar government on February 27 announced it would temporarily and partly lift the tariff — a move described by the special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo, Richard Grenell, who has recently been appointed as Trump’s intelligence chief, as a “half measure.” Grenell earlier this month brought Kosovar President Hashim Thaci and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic together at the White House to discuss ways to reach a final agreement between the two Balkan countries.

 

Montenegro Suspends Army Officer for Joining Church Protests (BIRN, by Samir Kajosevic, 11 March 2020)

 

As the Church-state confrontation over the new religion law continues, the Defence Ministry said it had suspended an officer for joining protests demanding the law’s abolition.

Montenegro’s Defence Ministry on Tuesday said it had suspended an army officer for joining street protests over the new religion law, saying Darko Mrvaljevic had broken the law.

“Mrvaljevic was caught committing a disciplinary offence. The removal will continue until the completion of the disciplinary procedure,” the ministry press release said.Since December, tens of thousands of Serbian Orthodox Church clergy, believers and supporters have been protesting twice a week to demand the withdrawal of the law, which parliament passed in December. The law mandates the creation of a list of religious sites in the country, and says faith groups that cannot prove property rights risk having them taking into public ownership. The Serbian Orthodox Church, whose relations with the government are poor, claims it could be used to strip it of its assets. Opposition pro-Russian and pro-Serbian political movements have been regular participants at the rallies and marches. Metropolitan Amfilohije, the top Serbian cleric in Montenegro, said the government was punishing people who support the protests by taking away their jobs. “In the military, the police and the school system, the government is sacking people who are against the Freedom of Religion Law. Mrvaljevic is a good man and a believer. I know him from church services,” Amfilohije said on Tuesday. On February 20, Army Chief General Dragutin Dakic warned that any soldiers or officers taking part in the protests risked being forced out, as there was no place in the military for those who want to place the Church above the law.

General Dakic said soldiers have a duty to defend the state in accordance with the laws and the constitution, and cannot take part in political manifestations. “It is unacceptable to participate in protests where there are visible political implications, and where we can only see the flags of another state … and when Montenegro and Montenegrins are underrated and insulted,” Dakic said on TV Vijesti, referencing frequent displays of Serbian and other flags. On February 14, in the first such meeting since parliament adopted the law, Church representatives submitted a list of proposed changes to Prime Minister Dusko Markovic. The Church specifically urged the government to retract that part of the law that calls for a directorate to compile a register of all religious sites in Montenegro.

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